The question of whether nonprofit groups should be able to rent Clement Park facilities at reduced rates sparked an emotional discussion by the Foothills Park & Recreation District board about what topics should be brought up at regular meetings.
The board was meeting Sept. 25 at The Peak Wellness Center on Ward Road. About six people, mostly district staff members, were in the audience.
After a heated exchange among the four board members who were present, the consensus was that the spirit of openness should prevail at all times. The members agreed that any board member should feel free to introduce any topic for discussion, whether or not it had been approved in advance.
Board members at the meeting were John Bradley, chairperson Terri Maulik, Jill Nunes and Keith Sutton. Judy Johnson was connected by speakerphone.
The discussion about agenda items came up after Maulik remarked that Bradley should have e-mailed all the board members before the meeting that he wanted to talk about reduced rates for nonprofits.
She said the subject had already been discussed at earlier meetings.
“We should talk about these things in e-mail,” Maulik said. “I’m not saying you don’t have the right to bring something to the board. We just need to be more prepared.”
Maulik said she was concerned that district staff had to spend a couple of days of work time to research an issue that had already been decided.
But Bradley disagreed. “Just because something is already on the books is no reason not to look at it,” he said.
The current policy does not allow reduced rates for nonprofits. The previous policy allowed a 25 percent discount for nonprofit groups that used facilities in Clement Park, but the policy was applied inconsistently across groups and park facilities. Eventually groups that weren’t getting the discount became aware of it and began to demand equal treatment.
Eventually it became a headache for district staff. After studying the implications of suspending the discount policy, the board last summer decided to do away with it rather than expand it.
The rescinding of the discount policy has generated about $10,000 in additional revenue through 2012 to date. Expanding it would have cost the district an extra $280,000 a year, executive director Ron Hopp said last week after the meeting. (Estimated annual revenue from all nonprofits at all facilities, parks and shelters is $1.1 million.)
Board member Jill Nunes said she was comfortable with discussing the bulk of park business in front of the public, which is why she argued against holding pre-meeting study sessions. Such sessions were a common practice a few years ago.
Diane Suchomel, vice president of CoHOPE of Littleton, or the Council of HOAs for a Planned Environment, went to the podium to say that, as a taxpayer, she appreciated in having the public involved and informed about financial matters.
“The spirit of the Sunshine Law is that you have the discussion here,” said Paul Rufien, the attorney for the park district. “It’s better to err on the side of openness. The law says you can have e-mail conversation but you can’t engineer the decision behind the scenes and start polling the board members to find out where they stand, then come to the meeting and make the motion."
“I don’t have a problem with anybody bringing up anything,” board member Judy Johnson said on the speakerphone.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Keith Sutton.
Maulik repeated that she doesn’t have a problem with board members bringing up anything they want to talk about. “I just want to be able to prepare more. Not that you don’t have a right,” Maulik said.
Bradley said he felt compelled to revisit the nonprofit policy after seeing a heartbreaking display by a group trying to raise money for research on spinal muscular atrophy, a fatal, incurable genetic disease that affects children. He then asked the director to put the item on the agenda for the Sept. 25 meeting.
Bradley said he was in tears when he found out the group had to pay $1,200 to rent a Clement Park shelter for a day. It seemed like an exorbitant amount considering the “Celebration Walk” would probably generate only about $1,000 to $2,000 at most, and it got him to thinking about doing things differently.
“How do you segment organizations like this? Do you think we have more of an obligation?” Bradley said. “If you don’t want to get involved, that’s fine. I just wanted to bring it up.”
“I basically agree with you,” Sutton said. “We should make it simple. Give Ron (Hopp) the authority to decide. Things have improved sufficiently. Leave it up to Ron.”
Other board members were more cautious. “I don’t think staff should be picking and choosing. Maybe we could set aside a couple thousand dollars that groups could apply for,” Maulik said.
Athletics supervisor Kevin Brown said the current policy of charging everyone on an equal basis, whether profit or nonprofit, had generated virtually no resistance. “We have lost about two nonprofits. One was the Komen Foundation, and they went to Summit County because they wanted to broaden their market. The other moved away. Most people said they understand. Not one person complained about the policy,” he said.
Brown said the nonprofit events are the most work-intensive for staff. “They say they will bring 100 and 500 show up,” he said.
Golf director Tom Woodard said the golf program had so many requests for free rounds from nonprofits they had to limit it to local charities and cap the giveaways at $6,000 at each golf course.
Nunes said one reason she liked the equality policy was that it was less of a burden to the paid staff. “I don’t think it’s fair to leave it up to the staff. It hasn’t hurt business. (Nonprofits) have other options,” such as going to parks other than Clement where the fees are a lot lower, she said.
She said that given the maintenance issues that are coming up in Clement Park, she wasn’t comfortable with revising the policy for nonprofits.
“I hear John, but I agree with Terri. There are thousands of nonprofit foundations,” said Judy Johnson. “I have a daughter who is deaf. The Listen Foundation needs money. But I don’t think Foothills is in a position to accommodate everyone,” Johnson said.
In other developments:
2013 revenue projection
Foothills' estimated budget for 2013 shows district revenue of nearly $22 million, a slight decrease from 2012. More details will be offered on Oct. 15, and the final budget is due Dec. 11, Hopp said.
Tuition reimbursement policy
John Bradley brought up the idea of crafting a tuition reimbursement policy as a benefit for the district’s 300 part-time employees. The consensus was that the district couldn’t afford to offer tuition benefits to everyone. However, it was willing to consider making a limited amount of about $2,000, or $250 per person, available in a competitive scholarship fund for which candidates would have to apply and be accepted.
Colin Insley reported that the park district was working with members of Mile High BMX to help build a BMX track at Schaefer. The BMX group started the county approval process and is working with a person who designed the Olympic BMX track in London for the 2012 Olympics.
Phone system replacement
The phone system replacement and update is in progress after an incident in which the phone switch at Foothills Golf Course failed. It was decided in a previous meeting to replace the system, which Executive Director Ron Hopp described as antiquated and near the end of its life expectancy. All of the system handsets are being replaced for a total cost of about $160,000.
The new system will allow call recipients to see a caller ID unique to each phone, as opposed the general switchboard number, said Christopher Lyons, IT manager. The supplier was selected without a competitive bidding process, which was deemed unnecessary. According to the minutes from July 24, Hopp said all vendors have to provide government (GSA) pricing and have to quote the same price so there was no need to ask for multiple estimates.
Hopp asked the board for approval to pay off the remaining amount of $419,000 in principal left on a $1.5 million 2005 lease-purchase agreement with 4.6 percent interest for improvements to Lilley Gulch recreation center, the sports arena and various trails. Hopp said the district could afford to do this because the capital reserve fund stands now at a comfortable $7.2 million, up from $3.6 million in 2005. The payoff will reduce the district’s interest expense by $151,000 a year.
The park district is applying for county permission to install new signs at The Peak Recreation Center, The Ridge Recreation Center and The Edge Ice Arena along Ward Street because the existing signs are too small and hard to see. Hopp said the idea came from the Sheriff’s Office, which had trouble finding the correct building during an incident involving a gunman in The Edge parking lot last summer.
The meeting ended with two executive sessions: one to discuss contract negotiations on park land parcels being offered for sale for commercial and residential development; the other was an unspecified personnel matter.
Contact Vicky Gits at 303-933-2233, ext. 22.